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The Better Man: A Novel Hardcover – June 3, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

At the heart of Anita Nair's first novel, The Better Man, there's a haunted house--with ghosts lurching around dark hallways and pushing the living down staircases. The cursed construction is in Kaikurussi in central India, and our protagonist, Mukundan, grew up there with his tyrant father and meek, apologetic mother. As the story opens, this frustrated middle-aged writer finds himself returning home, once again taking up residence in his dull, oppressive childhood village. He doesn't want to be there. He drinks rum and fears the dark.

Enter One-Screw-Loose Bhasi, a painter of houses and self-proclaimed healer who sees in Mukundan an opportunity for redemption and friendship. In much of the book Bhasi directly addresses his newfound companion:

Tell me, Mukundan. Tell me what it is that haunts you so. Tell me of the darkness that clouds your life. Tell me why you fold your handkerchief in eight precise squares. Tell me why it is that every strand of coconut fibre has to be heaped in one place when I finish with it. Tell me how it is that you have chained yourself to the clock.
Anita Nair has a great gift for suspense; from the beginning of The Better Man, she hints at profound losses in her characters' pasts, losses that are gradually revealed as the novel progresses. Class antagonisms crop up throughout, threatening to destabilize the village's quiet existence. A warning for language-minded readers: the book's metaphors can be clumsy and strained to bursting ("the sun took a deep breath and began its morning chores"). But fans of fiction from India, who crave passage into that exotic world, will find it highly rewarding. --Ellen Williams

From Publishers Weekly

All's well that ends well in Kaikurussi, the storybook Indian village that serves as the setting for Nair's charming debut novel. Bhasi, the village house painter, tells part of the tale. Driven out of his teacher's position in another village a decade earlier when he got himself mixed up in a disastrously miscalculated romantic entanglement, Bhasi hopped on a random bus and ended up in Kaikurussi. Since then, he has happily functioned as the village eccentric and off-hours healer. As a healer, he meets his wife, Damayanti, and his path crosses that of Mukundan Nair. Middle-aged Mukundan departed the village at age 18 to escape his tyrannical father, Achuthan, and left his mother to deal with her violent, adulterous husband. Now, having retired from his job as a factory manager, he's come back to the house he inherited when his mother died--Achuthan lives across the street with his mistress--only to find it haunted by her vengeful spirit. Practicing a folk version of psychotherapy, Bhasi manages to restore Mukundan's self-confidence, so much so that Mukundan takes up with Anjana, a beautiful young schoolteacher. Anjana is not fully divorced yet, but Mukundan is willing to risk the social faux pas, until he is invited to Power House Ramakrishnan's house for a meeting of the Community Hall Committee. Power House is the richest man in the village, having won the lottery, and he wants to seize Bhasi's land to put up a community hall. Will Mukundan, flattered by Power House's attention, betray his friend and girlfriend? Nair has the magical ability to make all of her readers feel, briefly, like Kaikurussi villagers in this humorous, imaginative and gracefully written novel. Agent, Laura Susijn. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (June 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312253117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312253110
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,359,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Upasi on November 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
With many a fiction being released with exotic corners of the world in the backdrop, `The Better Man' has the entire recipe for a potential blockbuster in that category, but for some reason fails to emulate even a `God of Small Things'. The reason, I believe lies in the basics of writing: the author failed to identify the audience of the book. With the globalization taking the literary world on stride, it is hard, but still important for the producer (author) to clearly identify the consumer (reader) for success (effective communication).
The story of Kaikkurussi has all the ingredients for an interesting netherworld tale. There is the curious Bhasi who can look into the minds and cure them with the help of exotic herbs and pure commonsense. There is the protagonist Mukundan, who discovers and rediscovers himself with the help of Bhasi. There are the images of death, tyranny, submission, defiance and ultimate tragedy of the various other characters with the Kerala social setup in the background. But the author fails to build the necessary background for a person unfamiliar with the society to digest all this. At the same time, for a native, the book does not provide anything new or exciting as there have been similar books written before, albeit in the local vernacular. It appears Anita Nair had the former category of readers in mind.
I would point to Marquez's Macondo (One Hundred Years of Solitude) as the epitome of the stories of other lands, factual or fictitious. It is amazing how skillfully and seamlessly Marquez weaves the strands of the land, people, society, culture and times of Macondo with a strong story line in the foreground. May be that is a little unfair a benchmark to new writers like Nair.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Manola Sommerfeld on May 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed the descriptions of daily life in an Indian village. Other than that, this book had a lot to dislike. For starters, the language was too contrived: "...she let him grope the curves of her breasts and tease the nubs into nibbly nuts..." "Then in Bhasi's eyes, Mukundan saw the star he had sought in the heavens shine and burn". The storyline was equally aggravating. This could have easily been the plot of a high-school movie: newcomer (Mukundan) is scared and wants nothing more than belong. He makes friends with a dweeb (Bhasi), who is genuinely concerned about him. He finds true love (Anjana). But when the "in" clique starts paying attention to the newcomer, he mistreats those who care about him. Through a series of events, he eventually realizes what a rat he's been and makes ammends.
Honestly, i'd rather watch or read the high-school version!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I happen to read Anita Nair's "The Better Man". I really liked the book for the ways in which she has portrayed Kerala. It is most of the time close to the reality. Unlike Arunthathy Roy, she doesn't invent or vulgarize English language. She speaks the truth with all idiosyncrasies of Kerala Culture. More over she has left out any sensational issues like kerala-politics and religion.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Set in the Malabar region of Kerala, this story shows how Nair can weave imagination with realism. Mukundan Nair, the protagonist returns to his village to be overshadowed by his tyrannical father. His fear of his father does eventually diminish with the end of the book as he emerges as the better man. But on the way, he enlists the help of One-screw-loose Bhasi who plies him with herbs and at one point has him sitting in a clay urn which is in the shape of a woman's womb, so that he can be born again without his emotional hangups! Mukundan is a man whose character is under attack. He can succumb to greed and flattery, but he doesn't. He wins the respect of the villagers without loosing his own self-esteem. Nair is a natural storyteller but what I like is that she doesn't turn India into exotica.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Prasanth Krishnan on March 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A simple tale told in a very beautiful manner. With the use of simple language, but still not losing the charm, Anitha Nair has done a wonderful job. Simplicity, detailing of characters and environment, and a good story are the trade marks of this book. Picturized in the malabar region of kerala, in a village called kaikurussi, the novel tells the story of a man,Mukundan who returns to his village to settle down after retirement. But he realizes that his life is still in the clutches of his tyrant father, whom he was always afraid of. He starts believing that he's indirectly responsible for his mothers death. He even starts hallucinating of his mother's ghosts. It takes the help of a painter by name Bhasi (who is known as one screw loose bhasi) to help him out of his misery and realize that his fears are baseless. Mukundan is made to be reborn out of a clay urn, shaped like a woman's womb. But soon mukundan dismisses bhasi and his love anjana for the sake of power and name in the village. Later at the end of the story mukundan regains his diginity and emerges as The Better Man free from his fears. Anitha nair has taken the finest care to portray the village ,the villagers, their beliefs and customs. Truly a brilliant work.
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